Thomas Bryant

Trade Breakdown: Clippers/Nuggets/Lakers/Magic Deal

This is the 11th entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a four-team deal between the Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.

Trade details

On February 9:

  • The Clippers acquired Bones Hyland.
  • The Nuggets acquired Thomas Bryant.
  • The Lakers acquired Mohamed Bamba, Davon Reed, the Clippers’ 2024 second-round pick, and the Clippers’ 2025 second-round pick.
  • The Magic acquired Patrick Beverley, the Nuggets’ 2024 second-round pick, and cash ($2MM; from Lakers).
  • Note: Both the Nuggets and the Lakers created a couple of small traded player exceptions as part of this deal, which can be found right here.

The Clippers’ perspective:

February’s trade deadline was unusual in that it featured several transactions that were originally reported as being between two teams, but were eventually folded into four-team deals.

For the Clippers, this transaction was very straightforward. They dealt away their 2024 and 2025 second-round picks to Denver and used a traded player exception to acquire Hyland, a second-year guard. That was the end of it for them.

The Nuggets flipped those two second-rounders — plus Reed and their own ’24 second — to the Lakers for Bryant. The Lakers then rerouted Denver’s second and Beverley to Orlando for Bamba. Three separate trades were folded into one because it made sense to do so.

The Clippers finished the regular season ranked 17th in the league on offense, and Hyland is a talented microwave-type offensive player – he can get hot in a hurry. He provides some flair and unpredictability to an offense that can be a little bland and stagnant at times.

When the deal was made, I was skeptical that the second-year guard would actually receive meaningful minutes, and that turned out to be accurate, at least initially. He only appeared in five of his first 14 games with the Clippers, averaging 7.0 PPG and 3.6 RPG on .297/.278/.800 shooting in 14.2 MPG.

The primary reason for that is Hyland is a combo guard whose size (he’s listed at 6’2″ and 169 pounds) makes it difficult to play him as anything but a point defensively. No matter where you play him on that end, he’s prone to making mistakes both on and off the ball.

However, injuries to Norman Powell (left shoulder subluxation) and Paul George (knee sprain) created an opening for Hyland, and he finished the season as a regular contributor off the bench, averaging 12.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 4.3 APG on .440/.375/.700 shooting in nine games (21.6 MPG).

Hyland’s immaturity (he left Denver’s bench out of frustration in the fourth quarter of a Jan. 22 game against the Thunder), defensive lapses, and displeasure with his role were reportedly factors in the Nuggets looking to move the former first-round pick. I’m sure Hyland shoving Mason Plumlee in the regular season finale raised a few eyebrows within the Clippers organization, even if it was a relatively minor incident.

Still, despite his flaws, adding a 22-year-old with some real offensive talent on a cheap, controllable contract through at least 2024/25 for just a couple of second-round picks was a worthwhile gamble for the Clippers. Even if it doesn’t work out in the long run, the cost was relatively low.

The Nuggets’ perspective:

When I write these trade breakdown articles, I treat it as a thought exercise where I try to put myself in the position of the respective teams’ front office. Of course I rely on reports and public statements as well, but NBA decision-makers aren’t always forthcoming with the media, which is understandable.

I try to be as objective as I can, which is challenging — I don’t necessarily personally agree with what I’m writing at times, and it’s hard to prevent my opinions from slipping through.

The reason I waited so long to write about this particular trade is I really didn’t like it from Denver’s perspective, and I still don’t.

Moving on from Hyland for a couple of second-round picks was reasonable enough; I’m sure the Nuggets did their due diligence, and that’s what his market value was. All the trade rumors coming out about how motivated they were to move him certainly did not help on that front.

My issue was that they rerouted those second-rounders and included one of their own to add a player on an expiring minimum-salary contract who doesn’t fit well on the roster. It’s not that Bryant is a bad player, he just doesn’t make sense on the Nuggets.

Part of the reason Denver’s bench has struggled so much all season long is because of the team’s reliance on Nikola Jokic. What he does on the court is impossible to replicate, particularly offensively – he’s the most efficient high-volume scorer in the league, unguardable one-on-one in the post, and one of the best passers in league history.

That reliance has proven to be a double-edged sword, as they lack an identity without him. His on/off numbers are staggering: plus-12.5 with him, and minus-10.4 without, a net difference of 22.9 points per 100 possessions. Every reserve has very poor on/off numbers.

Bryant has a lot of positive qualities. He hustles for loose balls, competes, sprints down the floor and is a skilled offensive player who can really shoot for a center, though his three-point percentages are somewhat misleading, as it’s low volume.

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook were very good at setting him up quality looks, and Bryant was highly efficient at converting them. He averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.8 RPG on .654/.440/.741 shooting in 41 games with the Lakers (25 starts, 21.4 MPG).

However, he is much more of a finisher as opposed to someone who can create for himself and others, and the Nuggets don’t really have anyone who can reliably feed him in the pick-and-roll. Head coach Michael Malone has been playing Jamal Murray with the second unit lately after abandoning the Reggie Jackson experiment, but they’re both score-first point guards. Bruce Brown isn’t a natural point either.

Bryant is a limited defensive player who – like Jokic – doesn’t protect the rim, and he also doesn’t possess Jokic’s basketball IQ or quick hands to be disruptive. He tries, but Bryant doesn’t move very well laterally and he’s on the small side for a center.

Long story short, Bryant’s skill set doesn’t fit well with Denver because he doesn’t have anyone who can reliably set him up on offense, and while he is a solid rebounder, he is an overall poor defensive player. It’s just a bad mix.

At the end of March, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports asked Malone (Twitter video link) why he thought Bryant hasn’t been able to find a rhythm with the Nuggets.

No idea. I can’t answer it. Maybe ask him that,” Malone replied.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It was also a little strange considering Bryant isn’t the first backup center who has been productive on other teams and struggled in Denver over the past few seasons, joining JaVale McGee and Isaiah Hartenstein. That tells me the coaches deserve some blame for failing to utilize those players as well.

In 18 games with Denver, Bryant has averaged 4.6 PPG and 3.3 RPG on .485/.444/.722 shooting in just 11.4 MPG. He has been buried on the depth chart behind Zeke Nnaji and DeAndre Jordan since Malone made those comments.

I really liked some of the moves the Nuggets made over the past year, including trading for (and extending) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, signing Brown, and drafting Christian Braun and Peyton Watson. All are players who filled roster needs.

As I said, I understand trading Hyland if he was causing problems in the locker room, and if that was the end of it, that would have been fine. But flipping those two second-rounders and including an additional one to acquire Bryant – who almost certainly won’t be retained – was a poor decision, in my opinion.

The Magic’s perspective:

It’s hard to say that Bamba’s tenure with the Magic was anything but a disappointment. He was selected No. 6 overall in the 2018 draft, ahead of players like Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr., Kevin Huerter, Robert Williams and Jalen Brunson, among several others.

Bamba dealt with injuries and never seemed to gain former coach Steve Clifford’s trust in his first three seasons, as he averaged just 15.3 minutes per game in 155 games from 2018-2001. He averaged 6.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 1.3 BPG on .471/.325/.646 shooting over that same span.

You could say being behind All-Star center Nikola Vucevic was partly to blame, but there were times when Bamba was outplayed by Khem Birch and Moritz Wagner as well. Draft status doesn’t mean much if you aren’t contributing at a high level.

After Orlando traded Vucevic and hired Jamahl Mosley to be the new head coach, Bamba emerged as the team’s starting center in 2021/22, which was the fourth and final season of his rookie scale contract. He averaged 10.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 1.7 BPG on .480/.381/.781 shooting in 71 games (25.7 MPG), re-signing with the Magic on a two-year, $20.6MM deal, though only his ’22/23 salary is guaranteed.

Bamba played alongside Carter in the frontcourt last season after Orlando acquired the former Duke big man as part of the Vucevic deal. However, the Magic landed the No. 1 overall pick last June and selected Paolo Banchero, a skilled power forward, which moved Carter up to center and put Bamba back on the bench.

The 24-year-old was mostly outplayed by Wagner again this season once the German big man returned from injury, burying Bamba further on the depth chart. The short-lived return of Jonathan Isaac, who later went down with season-ending adductor surgery, also likely played a factor in Orlando’s willingness to move Bamba.

The Magic gave Bamba opportunities — things just didn’t work out. He’s on a pseudo-expiring contract (non-guaranteed $10.3MM salary for ‘23/24), essentially making him a rental player.

It turns out he didn’t have a ton of league-wide value, which is why Orlando only got a second-round pick back. Taking on some additional salary in the form of Beverley didn’t affect the Magic’s cap situation, as they’re well below the luxury tax (they also received $2MM in cash from the Lakers). Beverley was later bought out and signed with the Bulls.

The Lakers’ perspective:

You can’t really look at this trade in isolation for the Lakers, as they completely revamped the roster with a series of moves in January and February.

The Lakers have gone 18-8 over their last 26 games despite missing LeBron James for 13 of those contests, so clearly the moves were beneficial in the short term.

They also recently signed Tristan Thompson and Shaquille Harrison to fortify their depth ahead of the postseason. They had one open roster spot and waived Reed to accommodate the second addition (he only played 27 garbage-time minutes across eight games with Los Angeles).

Bryant reportedly requested a trade after Anthony Davis returned from his foot injury. He played well as a fill-in starter for the Lakers, but wanted a bigger opportunity. Obviously, things have not worked out with Denver.

As for Beverley, moving him saved money toward the tax and created more playing time for the new additions as well as Austin Reaves, who has excelled over the past few months. Beverley had a rough start with the Lakers and although he eventually turned things around, he’s still a limited offensive player who is much older than Russell, Beasley, Reaves and Dennis Schröder.

Unfortunately, Bamba sustained a high left ankle sprain that sidelined him for a month not long after the Lakers acquired him, so it’s hard to get much of a read on how the team views him. He does bring a different skill set than Wenyen Gabriel, who has been the primary backup center following Bryant’s exit.

Bamba is listed at 7’0″ and 231 pounds with an enormous 7’10” wingspan, making him one of the longest recorded players in NBA history. He’s also shot 38.3% on threes over the past two seasons – an above-average mark, particularly for a center.

Gabriel, meanwhile, is 6’9″ and 205 pounds. He makes up for his lack of size by relentlessly going after rebounds and being a solid, versatile defensive player. He has outperformed his minimum-salary contract, but he’s still limited offensively and rough around the edges at times.

Bamba is more of a pick-and-pop threat, and obviously he has the size and length to be a deterrent in the paint – opponents shot 57.9% at the rim against Bamba, a solid mark.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Bamba is an overall positive defensively, however, as he’s prone to attempting blocks he has no chance of reaching, leaving the weak side open for offensive rebounds and easy put-backs. Still, his physical tools are enviable, and he won’t turn 25 until May.

Bamba’s $10.3MM salary for ‘23/24 will become guaranteed if the Lakers don’t waive him by the end of June. If they do release him and want to bring him back, they’ll have to re-sign him using something besides his Bird rights, which would be lost if he’s cut (he would regain his Bird rights for 2024 and beyond if he did re-sign with the Lakers in that scenario).

Nuggets Notes: Malone, Jackson, Bryant, Nnaji, Murray

The Nuggets remain atop the Western Conference despite losing five of their last seven games. Coach Mike Malone says it’s time for his team to start playing at a championship level as the postseason approaches, he told Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

“That’s not up to our standards,” he said of the team’s recent stretch. “This is gonna sound weird for most people, but more important than the wins and losses, is how we’re playing. Yeah, we want to win every night, but as I told our players yesterday, with 10 games to go now, it’s all about getting back to playing and developing championship habits. We got away from that.”

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Reggie Jackson has shot 31.4 percent since he signed as a free agent. Thomas Bryant has averaged just 9.9 minutes since being acquired from the Lakers. Malone says he’s closer to deciding whether they’ll be part of the postseason rotation. “You have to give them an honest look. Can’t just be one or two games. You have to give them an extended look to see what you have,” Malone told Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “But now with 10 games to go, we’ve gotta find a group and a rhythm and give them some opportunities to formulate that on-court chemistry moving forward. And I have a pretty good idea of who that is.”
  • Zeke Nnaji is also getting a look late in the season after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six weeks, according to Singer. In his first game back, the 22-year-old power forward played 12 minutes and contributed four points, five rebounds and a block against Brooklyn. Malone said Nnaji made the second unit more athletic and versatile defensively.
  • Jamal Murray has averaged 35.8 minutes per game this month despite dealing with right knee inflammation and occasional left knee soreness. Malone said Murray’s health is being monitored on a regular basis, Singer writes.  “It’s a daily conversation with Jamal, the training staff,” Malone said. “See where he’s at, not just physically, but mentally as well.”

Western Notes: Gilgeous-Alexander, Jones, Cancar, Nuggets’ Bench

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pumped in 35 points against New Orleans on Saturday but the Thunder are still playing it cautious with his recent injury. He sat out the second game of a back-to-back against San Antonio on Sunday due to what the team described as abdominal strain injury management, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. The Thunder star guard has exceeded the 30-point mark in his last four outings.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Tre Jones missed the Spurs‘ game against Oklahoma City on Sunday with a non-COVID illness, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News tweets. Jones averaged 13 points and six assists in his last two appearances.
  • Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar was available to play against Brooklyn on Sunday, coach Michael Malone told Mike Singer of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Cancar missed three games with a wrist sprain and also didn’t play against San Antonio on Friday.
  • The Nuggets’ second unit has been unsettled after changes were made during and after the trade deadline, Singer writes. Reggie Jackson has struggled with his shooting (29%) since becoming the backup point guard and Thomas Bryant has been relatively quiet since he was brought in to back up Nikola Jokic. “We’re still trying to figure stuff out,” swingman Bruce Brown said.

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Williams, Hyland, Nuggets Bench

Tony Jones of The Athletic believes it’s “very, very unlikely” that Russell Westbrook will ever play a game for the Jazz, noting that the veteran guard wouldn’t receive much playing time as the team prioritizes its younger players (Twitter links).

According to Jones, the two most likely scenarios for Westbrook are securing a buyout if he finds a situation he likes, or remaining on Utah’s roster but away from the team.

While that’s hardly surprising news, it’s still noteworthy that Westbrook might finish the season not actively playing. On the other hand, if he joins another team and things go awry, that could hurt his value ahead of free agency.

The 2016/17 MVP has made over $300MM in his career, so it’s not like he needs more money, but it’s a lot easier for a team to move on from a player who isn’t making much money than one who is. It’s a tricky balance to strike for a decorated player who was often criticized (sometimes unfairly) on his last team.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Thunder swingman Jalen Williams has flown under the radar a bit in ’22/23, but he’s having an outstanding rookie season, averaging 12.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.9 APG and 1.2 SPG on .508/.324/.759 shooting. He recently spoke to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype about a number of topics, sharing an amusing story about how he first met head coach Mark Daigneault.
  • Bones Hyland was traded to the Clippers last week after a rocky end to his Nuggets tenure. The second-year guard explained that he had “great communication” with Denver’s front office, but not so much with the coaching staff. “Yeah, I feel like it could’ve been done better on both ends,” Hyland said, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscriber link). “Just more communication. I’ve got so much love for Denver, but I just feel like the communication was just so low. I had a lot of mixed emotions, and we didn’t come together and just make it better.”
  • Nuggets head coach Michael Malone suggested he’s going to run a five-man bench lineup of Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Vlatko Cancar and Thomas Bryant once Jackson is activated after the All-Star break, tweets Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. A notable omission from that group is veteran forward Jeff Green, who has consistently been in the rotation when healthy and scored a season-high 24 points in Wednesday’s victory over Dallas. Malone has tweaked the bench rotation multiple times this season, however, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that five-man group changes over time.

Nuggets Eyeing Reggie Jackson As Buyout Target

Although the Nuggets didn’t make a major splash at the trade deadline, they did add some frontcourt depth by sending out Bones Hyland in a deal for veteran center Thomas Bryant. As a result of that move, Denver is in the market for a backout player to fill out their 15-man roster, and according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, veteran guard Reggie Jackson is near the top of the team’s wish list.

Jackson was on the move on deadline day, having been included for salary-matching purposes in the swap that sent center Mason Plumlee from the Hornets to the Clippers. Charlotte is considered likely to buy out the veteran guard.

Jackson, 32, was the Clippers’ full-time starter at point guard last season, but fell out of the team’s starting five in 2022/23. For the season, he has averaged 10.9 PPG and 3.5 APG on .418/.350/.924 shooting in 52 games (38 minutes; 25.7 MPG).

According to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report (Twitter video link), the Suns, another Western Conference contender, are also viewed as a probable suitor for Jackson, who played high school basketball in Colorado.

The Nuggets have an open spot on their 15-man roster and are seeking a reliable insurance policy in their backcourt or on the wing. Jamal Murray, the team’s primary backcourt ball-handler, has missed a few games recently due to right knee inflammation, Bruce Brown isn’t a natural point guard, and veteran Ish Smith is more of an emergency option, Singer writes.

Although Jackson is at or near the top of Denver’s list of targets, there are plenty of other buyout candidates the team could consider. Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Patrick Beverley are among the veteran point guards likely to reach free agency. Singer also points to Danny Green as a wing who might be a nice fit for the Nuggets, though there’s no indication yet that Houston will buy out Green after acquiring him from the Grizzlies.

A reunion with Will Barton, who is reportedly working on a buyout with the Wizards, won’t be possible, since NBA rules prohibit a team from re-signing a player it traded during the offseason if he’s waived by his new team during the subsequent season.

Lakers, Nuggets, Magic, Clippers Roll Three Trade Agreements Into Single Deal

5:35pm: The four-team trade is now official, according to a press release from the Magic.

4:46pm: The Lakers, Nuggets, Magic, and Clippers will combine three separately reported trade agreements into a single four-team trade, according to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel (Twitter links).

As Price explains, the Patrick Beverley/Mohamed Bamba swap between the Lakers and Magic, the deal sending Bones Hyland from the Nuggets to the Clippers, and the Nuggets’ acquisition of Thomas Bryant from the Lakers are the trades affected. The new-look deal is as follows:

  • Lakers to acquire Bamba, Davon Reed, the Clippers’ 2024 second-round pick, and the Clippers’ 2025 second-round pick.
  • Magic to acquire Beverley, the Nuggets’ 2024 second-round pick, and cash.
  • Clippers to acquire Hyland.
  • Nuggets to acquire Bryant.

The original terms of the trades called for the Clippers to send their 2024 and 2025 second-round picks to Denver for Hyland, with the Nuggets sending their own 2025, 2026, and 2029 second-rounders to the Lakers for Bryant and the Lakers sending an unspecified second-round pick to the Magic in the Beverley/Bamba swap.

Under the new terms of the deal, the two Clippers picks will be rerouted from the Nuggets (for Hyland) to the Lakers (for Bryant). Denver will keep its 2025, 2028, and 2029 second-rounders. The third pick the Nuggets are sending out for Bryant is now Denver’s 2024 second-rounder — it will be flipped from the Lakers to the Magic for Bamba.

The Magic won’t require Beverley to report to the team, according to Price, which is a strong signal they intend to buy him out or simply waive him.

Lakers To Trade Thomas Bryant To Nuggets

The Lakers and Nuggets have agreed to a trade that will send center Thomas Bryant to Denver in exchange for swingman Davon Reed and three second-round picks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), the second-round picks are Denver’s own in 2025, 2026, and 2029. The Nuggets have now traded away all their second-rounders between 2025 and 2029.

Bryant, who signed a minimum-salary contract with the Lakers in the offseason, has filled in admirably as the Lakers’ starting center during Anthony Davis‘ injury absences this season, but has only played a modest backup role when Davis is healthy.

In 41 games (25 starts), Bryant has averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per contest. His .654% FG% is a career high, as is his .440 3PT% (albeit on limited volume).

Still, as long as Davis stays healthy, Bryant’s value to the Lakers wasn’t substantial, especially with newly acquired forward Jarred Vanderbilt expected to spend some time playing as a small-ball five. Los Angeles also has veteran big man Wenyen Gabriel for depth purposes up front and would have been limited in its ability to give Bryant a raise as a free agent this summer since the team only controlled his Non-Bird rights.

On top of all that, Bryant hadn’t been thrilled with his reduced role following Davis’ return, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, who tweets that he asked the Lakers to look for a better situation for him.

It’s unclear if Reed will be in the Lakers’ plans going forward. He’s on a minimum-salary contract with a non-guaranteed salary in 2023/24 and hasn’t played much in Denver this season, averaging 2.3 PPG and 1.6 RPG on .313/.364/.750 shooting in 35 appearances (9.0 MPG). The second-round picks are the primary return for L.A. in the deal, essentially replacing the three second-rounders the club gave up for Rui Hachimura last month.

As for the Nuggets, they’ve been in the market for a reliable backup center behind two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, since offseason signee DeAndre Jordan hasn’t been a regular part of the rotation. Bryant should fill that role nicely, giving the team some extra frontcourt depth as it focuses on making a deep playoff run this spring.

As Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets, both teams will create small trade exceptions equivalent to the salaries of their outgoing players ($1.9MM for Denver; $1.84MM for L.A.). Neither the Nuggets nor the Lakers have to worry about salary-matching in the deal, since both players can be absorbed using the minimum salary exception.

L.A. Notes: LeBron, T. Bryant, Lakers, Conley, Clippers

After missing Monday’s game in Brooklyn due to left foot/ankle soreness, Lakers star LeBron James has been listed as questionable to play on Tuesday in New York, tweets Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times.

While that status indicates that his availability for tonight remains up in the air, sources tell ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (Twitter link) that LeBron will play against the Knicks. He’s just 117 points away from catching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two Los Angeles-based teams:

  • While his production fell off last week with Anthony Davis back, Lakers center Thomas Bryant showed on Monday that he remains a crucial – and highly effective – insurance policy, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting with Davis unavailable, Turner writes for The Los Angeles Times. “I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do in order to win,” Bryant said. “Whether that’s coming off the bench, I’m with it. Or if that’s starting, I’m ready as well.”
  • Now that the Lakers have traded away their 2029 second-round pick, Eric Pincus of Sports Business Classroom considers how the team could add protections to their 2029 first-round pick if it’s traded this season. Protections aren’t allowed to be added to picks beyond seven years, so if the Lakers trade their 2029 first-rounder with protections at February’s deadline, they won’t be able to include language that pushes it to 2030.
  • ESPN’s Tim MacMahon is the latest reporter to throw cold water on the idea of the Clippers acquiring point guard Mike Conley from the Jazz. After Jake Fischer reported last week that the idea of the Clips landing Conley was probably “unrealistic,” MacMahon said on an episode of The Lowe Post podcast that it’s unlikely to happen because L.A. is reluctant to give up a first-round pick. “If they are (going to give up a first-rounder) for a point guard, I think it’s more likely (Fred) VanVleet than it is for Conley,” MacMahon said (hat tip to Scott Polacek of Bleacher Report).
  • It took some time for the Clippers‘ star combo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to hit their stride this season, but the pairing is finally paying dividends, according to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. The team had won five straight games before Leonard and George sat out the second half of a back-to-back set on Sunday. L.A. won’t have another back-to-back until March.

L.A. Notes: Pistons, Cousins, Lakers Frontcourt, Clippers

The Lakers have long been linked to forward Bojan Bogdanovic — back when he was still on Utah and in the months since he was traded to Detroit. In an article about potential deadline buyers and sellers with Chris Mannix, Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated hears that the Lakers and Pistons “have discussed a deal that would include both Bogdanovic and Nerlens Noel.”

Rumors last month indicated that the Lakers offered Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and a protected first-round pick for Bogdanovic, but this is the first time we’ve seen them linked to Noel this season. Adding his $9.24MM salary to that framework complicates a trade from a salary-matching perspective — the Lakers would have to add three players on minimum salaries.

Replacing Beverley and Nunn with Russell Westbrook‘s $47.1MM expiring deal would mean the Pistons would have to add more salary, so more players would have to be involved in either scenario.

Here’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • DeMarcus Cousinsaudition for the Lakers is scheduled for today, tweets Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. In case you missed it, the Lakers are also working out Meyers Leonard today. Both big men are unrestricted free agents.
  • LeBron James said earlier this week that he believes a frontcourt with himself, Anthony Davis and Thomas Bryant “could be extremely beneficial for our ballclub.” Head coach Darvin Ham agreed that it was worth looking into, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic (Twitter link). “They’re all highly skilled players. … They can all score at all three levels. They can defend. They all can have good activity, good instincts. So, yeah, that’s something we’ll definitely take a look at,” Ham said.
  • In an appearance on ESPN’s NBA Today, Richard Jefferson said there might be some interference from the Clippers‘ front office when it comes to coaching decisions. “This is pure speculation… I’m hearing grumblings that people up top are having opinions about who should be playing… There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen and that is never a good recipe,” he said (Twitter video link via Talkin’ NBA). Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put much stock into something that Jefferson says is “pure speculation,” but he does have connections to the Clippers — he played under head coach Tyronn Lue with the Cavaliers and under president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank when Frank coached the Nets.
  • Lue told reporters, including Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN (Twitter video link), that Paul George (hamstring) and Luke Kennard (calf) would not practice with the Clippers on Thursday, but both players were working out and shooting prior to practice. George has been ruled out for Friday’s contest against Denver and Kennard seems unlikely to suit up.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Pacific Division

For the rest of the regular season and postseason, Hoops Rumors is taking a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents during the 2023 offseason. We consider whether their stock is rising or falling due to their performance and other factors. Today, we’re focusing on a handful of Pacific players.

Russell Westbrook, G, Lakers

  • 2022/23: $47,063,478
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Up

There were concerns about whether Westbrook would accept a more limited role entering the 2022/23 season, given his combativeness and lack of accountability at the end last season’s disastrous campaign. He clearly didn’t respect former head coach Frank Vogel, despite the Lakers winning a title under Vogel in ’19/20.

The ’16/17 league MVP is on the downside of his career at 34 years old, and he’s certainly not going to approach his current salary on an annual basis in free agency. Moving to the bench also hasn’t helped him score more efficiently — his 49.3 true shooting percentage is his lowest mark in 13 years, and very close to a career low (48.9 as a rookie).

So why is his stock up?

His attitude, effort level and effectiveness on defense have changed dramatically under Darvin Ham. He’s also been less of a ball-hog and a more willing passer in ’22/23.

Before the season started, I thought he might be looking at a one-year deal in the $3-7MM range in free agency. Now, I think he could get something like a two-year deal for the standard mid-level exception ($23.3MM), although it is admittedly difficult to come up a list of suitors – his playing style is polarizing.

JaMychal Green, F/C, Warriors

  • 2022/23: $2,628,597

    • Note: Green is also earning $5,571,403 from his previous contract with the Thunder.
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Down

Taking into account his full salary following a buyout agreement with the Thunder, Green has earned between $7MM and $8.5MM in five of the past six seasons primarily due to his inside-outside game and ability to rebound at a solid clip.

However, the outside part of his game has been lacking the past two seasons. He shot just 26.6% from deep with the Nuggets in ‘21/22 and is at 26.5% through 28 games this season.

Green is still rebounding well, but he’s turning the ball over more, has always been fairly foul-prone, and will be 33 in June. If the poor outside shooting continues, he’s likely looking at another veteran’s minimum deal in a best-case scenario, because he’s not big enough (6’8″, 227 pounds) to protect the rim as a center and isn’t shooting well enough to be serviceable as a stretch four.

Harrison Barnes, F, Kings

  • 2022/23: $18,352,273
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Neutral

Barnes had a very slow start this season, averaging just 9.9 points on a .368/.167/.800 shooting line through nine games. Unsurprisingly, he has rebounded nicely by averaging 15.9 PPG on .505/.378/.818 shooting over the past 30 contests, with only four games below double-digit points.

The 31-year-old doesn’t excel in any one area, but he does a lot of things pretty well, and he also doesn’t have easily exploitable weaknesses. Those types of players tend to be even more valuable in the postseason than the regular season, so Barnes will have a long list of suitors if he reaches free agency.

Barnes is in the last year of a four-year, $85MM contract. Being on the wrong side of 30 hurts a little (he turns 31 in May), but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to land another deal at similar value.

Thomas Bryant, C, Lakers

  • 2022/23: $2,133,278
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Up

Bryant, 25, has been one of the league’s best bargains this season, producing at a high level offensively while pulling down 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes on a veteran’s minimum deal. He plays with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, something the Lakers desperately needed.

Given his defensive limitations, I’m not sure you necessarily want him to be a full-time starter – having a solid foundation in the middle is really important. Still, he has shown that he’s over his ACL tear and will certainly command a raise as a free agent – something in the $7-12MM range annually should be within reach.

Dario Saric, F/C, Suns

  • 2022/23: $9,240,000
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Down

Saric’s current situation is somewhat reminiscent of Bryant’s last season — the reason Bryant got a “prove it” contract for the minimum is that he didn’t quite look fully recovered from his ACL tear. Unless he turns things around in the second half of ‘22/23, that’s likely what Saric will be facing in the offseason as well, because he’s struggled mightily to this point.

Having said that, he’s only 28, and his game isn’t predicated on athleticism, so there’s a chance he could be a nice buy-low candidate in free agency.